Back when I uzza kid, out in Muleshoe, Texas, we had a volunteer fire department. We had to. There wasn’t anyone available to live up on the second floor, at the top of the brass pole. All the men were either plowing or chopping cotton or sacking groceries down at Piggly Wiggly or Cashway. No one to slide down at a second’s notice. Or even an hour’s notice. Besides, no buildings had a second floor, except the Muleshoe Hotel. It only had a second floor because the drugstore was on the first floor.
The thing about a volunteer fire department is that you have to have a syreen. This is a thang that makes a loud screaming noise. It tells the cotton choppers and the plowers and the sackers that they need to get their butts in gear for an emergency. There’s been thunder and lightning, or it’s 7:00 PM (8:00 daylight), or maybe even a fahr.
Now, there has to be someone to sound the syreen. Since everyone else is doing something else, you usually hire either the Town Idjit or the Town Drunk. In Muleshoe’s case, it was the same person. This person sits down at the fahrhouse and mans The Button. When the word comes down, he pushes The Button. The syreen calls all to duty.
All these years later, now that I’m old and decrepit, I once again live in a small town. We have a volunteer fire department. There is no one available to live on the second floor at the top of the brass pole. Three of the men are out milking cows and the other nine are over at the Madison County courthouse, waiting in line for their unemployment checks. But someone has to man the syreen. The women are working.
In our case, it’s Jim Bob Seconadoga. Jim Bob is not an idjit, and he’s only drunk about two days a week. He doesn’t have to work because the casino pays him not to. Jim once told me he was a Hacksaw Indian, he’d cut anything, but he’s really an Oneida.
Jim Bob went to Noo Yawk City, once, but they stopped him on the street because he wasn’t white enough. When they got ready to deport him they found out his ancestors had been living up here for the last 1300 years, so they deported him back up here.
The upshot of all this is that when I got to feeling reminiscent about The Button and The Syreen, I ambled down to have a word with Jim Bob. I told him I wanted to see The Button. He sez, “What button?”
I sez, sez I, “Why, THE Button! The Bubba Button! The one that works the syreen!”
He sez, sez he, “We don’t have no button. We have a string. It’s called a Yankee String. No Bubba Buttons here!”
“I swanee!” I said. “Why would you call it a Yankee String?”
“Wal,” he sez, “whenever there’s thunder and lightnin’, or it’s 7:00 PM (8:00 daylight), or there’s maybe even a fahr, the mayor calls, and he sez, ‘Jim Bob! yankee string!’”.